Adela Campallo, bailaora. Interview for Flamenco-world.com

“When I couldn’t dance with my body,
I danced with my mind”

Silvia Calado. Seville, October 2009
Translation: Joseph Kopec

When she was a little girl, she always used to sit on her doorstep looking at the longest side of the street. Perhaps seeking the horizon, the one which could hardly be discerned when a car accident was about to cut short her career as a bailaora. Adela Campallo has struggled for four years to overcome a back injury. And by means of willpower, perseverance and dancing, she now gets up on stage with the energy of days gone by, but with the extra maturity you only get from an extreme situation. ‘7 de mayo’ and ‘Horizonte’ are the shows with which she banishes the false reports circulating about her disability and takes up her solo career once more. But it might be more exact to say that she never left it, since “when I couldn’t dance with my body, I danced with my mind”.

 

In the courtyard of the Sevillian but cosmopolitan Hotel EME, the conversation blends with the sound of the fountain and the designer latticework. The subject is a bailaor’s day-to-day work, the hours of study... and that other thing which can’t be studied. Adela Campallo believes in balance. “There are people who don’t know how to dance without technique, who work like an athlete. And like that, the artist’s spirit is covered up”, the Sevillian bailaora explains. To which she adds that “as soon as he’s missing something, he can’t pull out another resource and he doesn’t realize that they’re leaving out intuition, spontaneity, true art”. And she asks a question logical in someone who graduated from the company of Manuela Carrasco herself: “Why does that happen in flamenco nowadays?”.

Of course, she knows that “the opposite happens, too, with that street artist who does a wonderful little kick, but he’s missing the other thing, technique”. That’s why she believes that the study routine is fundamental. She has it and moreover, out of obligation, since “with my problem, when I leave my back still for two weeks, I can’t move”. Dancing is what has healed her back injury caused by a car accident over four years ago. “I’m not obsessed with technique. What I have to be obsessed with is my baile, which is my work and what I display when I get up on stage sure of what I’m doing”, she elaborates. And back to balance:

“I don’t have a classical career, but I do have to have my body trained technically to move an arm, to be positioned. I can’t forget that there’s something else inside an artist which keeps people in suspense. What happens nowadays is that the audience is also kept in suspense by technique, too. OK, but now stop and speak to me with your regard, with your way of positioning, speak to me motionless, speak to me with a simple jolt the way Manuela Carrasco does or the way Eva Yerbabuena does. And of course there are young people who manage to do that: Rocío Molina, Rafael Estévez, Farruquito… But a time comes when people forget about that and to me, that’s flamenco. It’s technique, but it’s also the other thing… and the other thing overpowers me more. What really fills me is to listen to a cante and I don’t care what’s set up, because if the cantaor twists me backwards, I’m going to do it backwards and not forwards”.

To what extent are your shows tied together?

 


 

Of course, improvisation happens at times in dancing; it isn’t the whole of a staged show. In ‘7 de mayo’ there’s discipline, a musical script, there are some bells which recall a birth at all times… But within each baile there is that moment of spark, which not only I might give to it, but maybe it’s being given by the one singing or the one on guitar. There are bailes in which I need certain freedom. In the soleá, starting with the beaten-out bulería until the end, I haven’t set up anything. For at least three minutes, I depend on what I’m given by the guitar and the cante. Spontaneity has to be there at specific moments.

What role do you give to cante and guitar in your shows?

A really important role because unless you put together something by yourself, it’s all communication between them and me. Manuela is great beside Joaquín Amador, Eva is great beside Paco Jarana, and she’s also great when Poveda sings for her and when José Valencia sings for her. The show isn’t just the bailaora and the triumph isn’t just hers; everything triumphs because everything has a leading role. We depend on what’s at the back; that’s why you have to know how to choose.

When you’re all creating, do you take part in what’s being played for you or sung for you?

Yes, I like to ask for what I want. I sometimes even stress the musicians. I’m a real pain in the neck, I go to the studio alone, bang, bang… Yesterday, for example, we were with the galley of ‘Horizonte’ and I’m constantly participating in the musical part. I also let them have their time alone, for them to bring out music and starting there, I put things together, asking them for more or fewer details. And the same in the cante; I like to know at least what style I want in each baile and afterwards give them freedom, since they know more than me. I’d never tell Juan José Amador or José Valencia or David Lagos what they have to do, but I would tell them the style and the form. And regarding the lyrics, it’s more important to me for the cantaor to have something to say, than what the text itself says.

 

You’ve known old-time cante since you were a little girl. What inspires you the most?

What I like most in the world is Terremoto’s seguiriya. It drives me wild; he’s one of the ones I listen to most, together with Caracol, Pepe Pinto… There used to be such diverse echoes, such different ways of caressing cante…

How did you live flamenco in your childhood?

They weren’t people who were dedicated professionally, but it was a neighborhood with a lot of art. My grandfather grew up in the Cava de los Gitanos in Triana and he brought that to El Cerro. I’ve really remembered that not because they’re artists, but because it’s been lived. The parties at my house had singing and dancing. I’ve always heard my aunt Pilar sing me Triana’s soleá and La Lotera, which is what I used to do in my family’s show: “Catalina Fernández Seis-Gallos, born in Umbrete…”. I did it from beginning to end with my coupons and my apron. My mother used to sing with Pepe Marchena; she did start out professionally. Since my father didn’t use to let her sing, to win remnants of fabric on the radio contest, she had to get angry with him. When she came back, they made up. You have to listen to her por fandangos. But my father was very jealous, come on and raise the kids… and she gave it up. But my father loves it; he always listens to the old-time stuff. He loves El Lebrijano, Juan Villar, Paquiro… And my uncle Barragán is one of the ones who has taught me the most about cante. He used to get together with Camarón and other cantaores of that generation. People have gone out to the country to look for him to hear him sing fandangos by Tomás, by Pepe Pinto, by La Niña de los Peines… he knew them all.

Rafael and you on baile, Juan and Mariano on guitar… Is it a coincidence that four of you Campallo siblings devote yourselves to flamenco?

It is a little bit, because I don’t remember any baile in the family; I do with cante. You like it and it’s there; I used to draw upon the videos of Manuela Carrasco, who’s the one that influenced me the most. I learned her soleá by watching her on video and you can’t imagine how I had to pester my father until he bought me a VCR. A poor family, seven brothers and sisters… Well, but then each one has gone the way he’s wanted to. I have a brother who’s a hairdresser and he sings wonderfully, with a really nice accent and timbre, but he doesn’t like the art world at all. But the art comes out with his scissors; he does really weird patterns on heads. The eldest is the one who likes it the most; he’s a flamenco fanatic and nevertheless, he’s the one who does it all the worst. Each one chose his own story.

Rafael and you began to study with maestros José Galván and Manolo Marín…

Yes, but we haven’t had many instructors for a long time. I consider that my bailes, apart from Manolo and José who are the ones I have to be most grateful to, are also the fruit of what I’ve learned from my colleagues while already working. I haven’t had time, the way it’s done now, to take so many courses, but I have been lucky enough to work with colleagues who have been like instructors to me: Javier Latorre, Andrés Marín, Antonio Canales, Farruquito… And my brother Rafael the same; he budded when he was really little and he didn’t have time to study so much, but studies on stage are the best thing an artist can have.

Do you feel that not having training in classical is a handicap?

 
“My mind sometimes soars more than my body”

In some ways it is, but I also think that if I’d studied it, my personality wouldn’t have been forged the way it is now. At some moments I feel I’m at a disadvantage because I might have been able to join other companies or… what happens is that my mind sometimes soars more than my body. I might not have training in classical, but I do have other training which is what flamenco requires. With the one I have, I can perform a show. But there were personal circumstances; at the age of fifteen I had to work and bring home money. There were seven of us and I had to help out. At the age of fifteen I went to Japan for six months and I really didn’t go for pleasure. And when I came back, I started working at tablaos and people already started asking me for classes. In the end, I didn’t have any time left to study. You train a different way. That I could have done so when I was older, of course I could have, but it’s hard to leave a groove. And perhaps I wouldn’t have the flamenco personality I have now. I am the way I am and I’m happy… although I have little work, although they don’t give me room because they want other things, I don’t mind.

 

And do you think it’s had anything to do with your accident?

What’s happened to me really makes me mad. There’s such a rumor going around now about me and my back that… I know I’ve come out on stage really bad; I’ve done so out of need and I admit it. I thought that what little I could do, I would do, but on stage you risk being judged. And yes, I’ve been bad, I’ve come out on stage in bad shape, after having been to the max. A few months after having performed to the max at the Teatro Central with Guadiana, I had the accident. When I returned to that stage, this time with ‘Otra generación’ by José Miguel Évora, people expected to see me like before. They couldn’t see me like that; I could only lift my arms halfway. You can’t explain yourself up on stage. I left in the taranto crying in pain. I’ve come out to dance with Canales, my eardrum burst and I was bad, really bad. But what’s not right is that now that I’m OK, I’m not given the chance to show it or they want to pigeonhole me just collaborating with my brother. Give me the chance; let me express myself. I either go solo in flamenco, or I’m not going. I’m fed up with collaborating with so-and-so or the other and then I’m told that I always do the same thing, but what can I do in a single baile? And what I’m always asked for is my forte: seguiriya or soleá por bulerías. Let me breathe, for if I have to hit myself in the head with a song now that I’m OK, I’ll do it, but let me try. I think I deserve it.

If you want to explain what happened, please explain…

I had the car accident four years ago. I had a lot of aftereffects and I came out on stage dying with pain. People didn’t know if I was infiltrated, or if I’d lost sixty percent of my hearing in one ear. I’ve cried with pain and for not being able to move, but I had to prove it. When the false information went around that I’d ended up tetraplegic and colleagues even believed that I was bedridden… I had to stop the rumors. That’s why I came out and danced in those conditions. But the worst thing about it was that it happened to me at my prime, just when I was eating up the world… my way. I used to walk from El Cerro downtown, which took me an hour, I’d go to Silvia de Paz’s studio and on two cups of coffee and some pastry or another, I could dance and dance for hours. I was brimming over and I just wanted to move forward. And crash! I also think that I’ve been able to take advantage of this setback a different way, through my restlessness to want to dance. Although my body hasn’t been able to dance, my mind has danced. Before that, I used to go out on stage and I was an earthquake. I drove Canales and Farruquito crazy because what I wanted was to dance more and solo; I wasn’t afraid of anything. Afterwards, I had to accept that my body wasn’t responding and learn to dance differently, using other resources. And now I have the self-confidence and vitality back that I used to have, but I also have something else that having been injured has taught me. I’ve learned a lot thanks to the accident, I’ve realized a lot of things… I might have crashed if I’d carried on otherwise, I might have learned all of this a lot later on. It all happened at a time when the people and artists expected a lot from me. And now I feel that it’s the time once again.

But there were always colleagues who believed in you, weren’t there?

I have to thank Antonio Canales a great deal. If I could dance with him for five minutes, I danced for five minutes. If it was twenty minutes, twenty. To me, Antonio Canales, hats off to him! When I did ‘Sangre de Edipo’ with him and with Lola Greco at the Festival de Mérida, I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to walk. He introduced me to Hansel Cereza and I was wearing a neck brace and had crutches, and he couldn’t believe that I was going to be Ismene. I could see his face went really pale, he asked Antonio if I was the one who was going to dance and Antonio said yes, for him not to worry, that I was going to be there even if I didn’t dance, that I had to be Ismene. And in the end I danced, I gave myself I don’t know how many shots... but the thing is that I needed it. When a doctor tells you before operating on you that you have an eighty percent chance of ending up tetraplegic, your mind… Antonio told me that I was going, that he’d lift me up on stage, that my face was enough for him, that I was Ismene. And Lola Greco helped me a great deal, just like Merche Esmeralda when I danced with her and with Javier Barón. The strongest aftereffects I’ve had are in my hands. There are times when they fall asleep, although on stage nobody realizes it. Merche was with me when I’d just finished dancing and as soon as she saw my face was pale, she started to calm me, to massage my hands… I’ve really been lucky with my colleagues. And I emphasize Canales because, moreover, he’s given me my place. He’s to be thanked for having a lame woman dancing… hee hee hee. He very artfully asked wardrobe to really doll me up.

Afterwards, you’ve collaborated with Farruquito, Javier Latorre and Andrés Marín. How is it that you fit it with such different styles?

 


 

That was what I thought was strange, because they weren’t auditions. I just wanted to go to some of Eva Yerbabuena’s auditions, but I couldn’t because I got a job in Germany. And it’s something I would have loved, being in her company, imagine what you learn, what she can teach you and what it must be like to be beside that bailaora. The other one that I did was for Cristina Hoyos and I was really young, really brutish, and of course, there was no room for me in her show. And no more afterwards. Andrés, Canales, Latorre came to the tablao to see me and get me… And I might just as easily find myself beside Farruquito, as performing a role in Latorre’s ‘Rinconte y Cortadillo’, then Andrés with another baile thing... I thought: what are they looking for in me? And the thing is that in reality I apparently don’t have much to do with nearly any of them, but all of them respected my ways. It was a surprising experience for me, and moreover, all in a single season. I had just come back then after having been in Barcelona for nine months and I had my act together, with my baile much more elaborate. I learned a lot there with colleagues like Rosario Toledo. That was when I started dancing with such different people. But what marked me for good happened much earlier, when I joined Manuela Carrasco’s company with ‘La Diosa’ at the age of seventeen. A dream come true.

What did you learn from Manuela Carrasco?

I remember one day when she came out por alegrías wearing a white bata de cola and doing bullfighting, we boys and girls were around her clapping for her, I saw that woman come out… I stopped clapping and I burst out crying. I saw that such great woman, that face of hers, that bata positioned… that’s art! The technique of art is really something that you can’t learn anywhere. She’s been my school although she’s never been my instructor. You really realize what flamenco is there. Everybody knows who Manuela is and even so, there are people who say that por tientos no… that so on and so forth… and they should stop nitpicking and look at her greatness.

Although your taste is really varied…

 
“I like every person who believes in himself and who demonstrates that what he’s doing is true”

Of course it is. And thank God there are other kinds of styles! That’s the good thing about flamenco, that other types of dances have come into it and now there’s a huge range to choose from. Recently a Japanese woman who interviewed me asked me who I liked dancing. The truth is that I like every person who believes in himself and who demonstrates that what he’s doing is true. And that includes Israel Galván, Andrés Marín, Manuela Carrasco, Farruquito, Rocío Molina, Pastora Galván, my brother Rafael… And the journalist couldn’t believe that I liked Israel and Farruquito. Why not? If both of them are equally pure in their feeling, if both of them demonstrate what they truly feel inside. Not believing that is to be uneducated in flamenco and in art. Why can’t you like a painting by Velázquez and one by Picasso? That your sphere lies more in one person, OK, but both of them have made me cry. I’m not changeable, but rather sensitive to art.

***

The conversation keeps on getting entangled in the avant-garde latticework of the courtyard. And then the question comes about projects, about how Adela Campallo is going to demonstrate the bailaora she is today, after Manuela, after visiting so many planets, after the accident, after the recovery… The response is double, since she isn’t working in one, but in two shows at the same time, aware of the demand: “I think it’s better to have different options for different venues, than to mutilate a show already created for a larger scale. An artist’s mistake is to remove what enriches and what gives a show vitality in order to make it smaller. I think it’s better to have a broad mind to set up different shows and for people to enjoy each of them at the right venue”.

 

The large-scale one is ‘7 de mayo’, a show inspired by her own maternity. “When I had my son and then I recovered from my back injury, I saw everything that he’d given me: vitality, light, energy, temperance… and also sadness, for everything. My son has given me the desire to live and I wanted to dedicate something to him”, the bailaora explains. And the truth is that beforehand she had also thought about staging not just the story of her dramatic experience, but rather “to reflect the merit which many people have, among them me, for fighting and fighting because the art is what leads you”. In fact, she designed it with stage director Hansel Cereza. “It’s there, but for the time being, no program organizer has been interested in it”, she points out with resignation.

But she turns the page and right away her face lights up with ‘7 de mayo’: “I don’t know why, I move from what I’m living. It always happens to me when I set up a baile that I reflect what I’m living at that moment, the energy, if I’m sad, if I’m happy”. And in this show, as she comments, “everything refers to what I’ve learned in this course of my life when I’ve become a mother and I’ve formed a family”. She captures it on stage, as could already be seen in the sneak preview in Holland, with “elegance, flamenco flavor and creativity contributed by a team of artists in which I’m accompanied by guitarists Juan Campallo and David Vargas in the musical scores, the lighting designed by Óscar de los Reyes, collaboration in the choreography by Rafael Campallo in the tangos for three bailaoras and the contribution of Javier Barón as assistant director”. Plus the lyrics which Adela herself has written to Manuel. Some of them go like this: “Heart of mine, take the light from me, if you need it”. So it is no surprise that when the sneak preview was performed in Dutch lands, her colleague Mercedes Ruiz left her a little note congratulating her on her show and highlighting one quality in it: her sensitivity.

And the show for more intimate venues is called ‘Horizonte’…

Adela Campallo presents ‘Horizonte’ in the Cajasol’s Jueves Flamencos series (Sala Joaquín Turina, Seville) on May 13th, 2010


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Further information

Ángel Muñoz and Adela Campallo dance to the sound of ‘Inspiración’ by flamenco guitarist Juan Diego

Interview with Manuela Carrasco, dancer (July 2002)

Interview with Farruquito, bailaor (November 2003)

Interview with Rafael Campallo, dancer (2001)

 
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